DEFRA's arm's-length bodies - including the Environment Agency, the national parks authorities and British Waterways, the body responsible for maintaining Britain's network of rivers and canals - were told their allocations for the 2011-15 spending review period before Christmas.
The Environment Agency's overall budget is to be reduced from £829 million in the current financial year, to £708 million in 2011/12, falling to £652 million in 2014/15. Within this, DEFRA has decided that the agency's budget for flood management will fall from £629 million in 2010/11 to £485 million in 2014/15 - a reduction of nearly 23 per cent.
An agency spokesman said that the body's board will discuss how its budget - including its funding for the maintenance and development of flood defences - would be allocated at a meeting on 3 February.
An indicative list of flood management schemes to receive funding would be agreed at the meeting and communicated to regional flood defence committees, made up of representatives from councils, the Environment Agency and DEFRA, the spokesman said. The committees would then have the opportunity to comment on these allocations before the 2011/12 budget is finalised in April, he added.
Ann Skippers, president of the Royal Town Planning Institute, said that it had voiced its concern to the agency over the impact of the cuts. She said: "We understand the financial reality the Environment Agency faces, but we have expressed our concern to it that the cuts may result in delays in the determination of strategically important schemes."
Following the reduction to the Environment Agency's budget, environment secretary Caroline Spelman unveiled £21 million of grants for 2011/12 to help councils manage flood risk, including for flood mapping and producing risk management plans. DEFRA said this funding would rise to £36 million in each of the following three financial years. The department added that the cash would be part of the area-based grant and so will not be ringfenced.
DEFRA said that its spending on flood and coastal erosion risk management over the next four years would be at least £2.16 billion. This figure is approximately eight per cent less than it spent over the previous four years, it added.
Ian Heijne, director of rivers and coastal at engineering firm Atkins, said that the reduction in spending on flood defences and management follows a decade of increasing investment in such infrastructure. He said that he anticipated "some slowdown" in Environment Agency-funded projects in response to the budget reductions.
Charles Tucker, chair of charity the National Flood Forum, warned that DEFRA's decision to allocate some of its budget for flood management to councils as part of the area-based grant could mean that some town halls may choose to spend the money on other priorities.
He added that spending on flood defences would need to increase just to keep the number of properties at risk of flooding at current levels. "Unless the expenditure continues to rise in real terms more properties are going to be at risk, not less," he said.
DEFRA budget for arm's length bodies